Sunday, November 25, 2007

(It's) Stranger On A Train

Yeees, it is.

A friend of mine from high school tied the knot in her church in Washington DC, so we decided to get a jump on our Thanksgiving hollerdays and I acquiesced to my husband's request that we hop on the Crescent and stay on it overnight from Amtrak's Union Station here in New Orleans all the way to the Union Station in DC.

God, I must have been on something when I said yes.

After an unsuccessful overnight attempt to get the abandoned cab in front of our house stolen in the middle of the night (Crime? Who says there's crime in New Orleans???), we high-tailed it off to the station and got on the train. Dan hadn't been able to obtain a sleeper car berth for us, so we were back in recliner chairs with all the rest of us mere mortals who wouldn't pay those frickin' prices for privacy. The biggest problems once we got on the train? Well, the aforementioned lack of privacy, for one, the wanderlust of the little guy, and the highway robbery prices of the food in the lounge car. The dining car just beyond the lounge car was better in that they gave you more food for the prices. Otherwise, we were stuck with the parmesan cheese-flavored Goldfish crackers, the pretzel Goldfish, and the juice boxes we brought for the little guy.

Highlights of the trip:

- the quick study that is our little guy on matters of train movement and how best to handle walking between the train cars: He would admonish anyone and everyone who was about to head for a different train car to
"Watch out for the rubber tunnel!!!".

- the ease with which he made friends on the trip, and the ease with which darn near all of us settled in as traveling companions. It was pretty easy to talk with just about anybody on the train, something I'd forgotten about since my Northeast Corridor-surfing days on Amtrak trains at college holiday times. More on that later.

- late-night schmoozing with good-lookin' train conductors. More on that later, too.

Lowlights of the trip:

- the grunge factor. No showers + porta-potty-like toilets + all of this on a moving train rocking from side to side = ICK. Yeah, you can brush your teeth. I certainly did. I had to do
something to counter the stink of the commodes. Plus, it was nighttime. Which brings me to the fact that

I couldn't get a good night's sleep on those sorry excuses for barcaloungers to save my life!!!! I have no clue as to how my husband and son managed to sleep in the contortionist positions they were in, but they slept like the proverbial dead and I was a damned zombie. I brought my grungy self up to the lounge car, where there were many empty booths in which to sit and where it was much, much cooler than the hot box that was the coach car, and I began working on this cross-stitch pattern. The aforementioned good-lookin' good ole boy conductors ventured into the car and did what conductor folk do at one AM or thereabouts while I worked with glow-in-the-dark thread and accepted a free cup o' joe from one of them. After three hours of this stuff and a whole lotta headway on the pattern, I headed back to the coach car and managed to collapse from exhaustion for another few hours, until my son woke me up by running in the aisles with his newfound friends a little before I managed to corral him and get another set of clothes on him.

- running after children on a moving train is no fun at all. Dan and I finally did a tag-team deal in which I was in the coach car and he was in the lounge car just ahead, and the kids went back and forth in the rubber tunnel ("Watch out for the rubber tunnel!!!") while we simply kept an eye on them when they were in our respective zones and made sure they didn't decide to exit the train by any means other than the nonemergency ones.

The one neat thing about this trip: talking with the fellow sitting next to me, a career army guy from Crown Heights who is now an NYPD officer and an army reservist. He was coming back from looking for prospective law enforcement jobs in Tuscaloosa, which he described as being a "spread-out Brooklyn" because of the attitude he constantly got from the natives in the area. He'd had to show his police badge to get any kind of respect or consideration from folks there. When he heard I was from New Orleans, he told me about some of his army buddies who'd come straight from a tour of duty in Iraq and were sent there to help after 8-29. Some of them were actually shot at by some gang members they'd cornered. "
Damn, you do that to guys who've just been in Iraq, and you're just asking for all hell to break loose on your ass!" he said.

He also expressed his frustration with the army in general - the lack of discipline and the erosion of the can-do attitude that the armed forces used to have. He especially pinpointed the Army Corps of Engineers. It entered into a discussion of the fact that New York City could well be affected by the same sort of man-made insanity that is still affecting us here. From what he's seen, the A.C. o' E. could well put in place a lot of the stuff that needs to be done, or they could find other ways to do it without its costing a small mint. Bureaucracy and a change in the culture of the armed forces is what's holding things back there. Those are the things that have caused him to eschew the army as a career track.

I bade him goodbye and wished him a good trip back to Penn Station. In my zombie haze, as I lugged my bags and my family through the Metro and over to our hotel on M Street, I wondered how many more of these folks were out there, career military men and women who had seen the worst and then some (the fellow I'd talked with had been through George H.W. Bush's Gulf War) and who just couldn't take it anymore. Combat hadn't made them quit, but apathy and incompetency had done them in. "Can-do!" had become "what the hell
can I do, in all this mess?"

And we're just gonna send folks like these back to Crown Heights?

Hell of a trip, y'all. And the cold hard ground about me looked as though it was
still moving after twenty-seven hours on a train. I don't know how John Madden does it. Oh, wait, he doesn't even take the train anymore! Ha!

And, hey, if anybody's got any concrete ideas, aside from calling anyone and everyone on the city's bureaucratic ladder, as to how to get rid of the aforementioned abandoned, open cab, whose battery is stone-dead, that is still parked in front of our home, please let me know. No, we are not willing to pay to get the damn thing towed. Yeah, we are probably gonna be reduced to pushing the thing out into the gray brick road and blocking it just to get the cab out of our faces. Yes, I need a drink bad. I am, after all on a holiday from my hollerdays.


oyster said...

Great recap of your train travels-- warts and all! I'm glad the little guy had fun and made friends. Hope all your holiday beverages are pleasant and refreshing, and ... good luck with the broken down cab.

Sophmom said...

O-M-G!! Michael takes the train all the time (of course he gets off and/or on in Atlanta). Here's where you made your mistake (lost your marbles?): "Dan hadn't been able to obtain a sleeper car berth for us..." Yikes. At that point, fly, drive, do anything but take the train (with Little Guy, no less!!!). I recommend you try it again, just the two of you in a Viewliner Roomette. JMHO.

Made for great stories though. Welcome home, darlin'. Good luck with that cab.

Dr. A said...

Hey there!
Adventures on a train! LOVED the cross-stitch!

About the abandoned taxi:
Email your quality of life officer from the NOPD and tell them the car type, plates,where it is, what it looks like, etc- what district are you in? Either the 2nd or the 6th I expect.
For the second district -contact
They'll come tag it and eventually it will be gotten rid of.
Good luck!
If you're in the 6th, I can find out who to contact. Let me know and good luck.

Tim said...

Yes, the sleeper car is the way to go. You get about 10 square inches more of space, but it's all horizontal and private. And there's a shower down the hall! I took the overnight train from Chicago to Buffalo not long ago and the cost of the sleeper was much better than the cost of airfare plus a hotel room. Nevertheless, what a great experience for you and yours. That's a story you can tell for years to come.

Also, thanks for posting on those Oregon blogs about why we must rebuild New Orleans. We need to remind people as much as possible that their quick-to-condemn attitudes toward us is not just some rhetorical game. This is not "debate club." This involves real people and real lives. You helped put a human face on the issue which I think makes all the difference.

Blog on, sister! Peace,